Reduce Rural Poverty

End rural poverty: a path towards hunger-free, peaceful and inclusive societies

Published: 17/10/2017

On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2017, FAO joins the world to recognize the importance of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere to build a future free of hunger, based on peace and prosperity.

A focus on food, agriculture and rural livelihoods must play a pivotal role in achieving a peaceful and prosperous future free from poverty and hunger. That is FAO’s main message on 17 October, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2017, when around 767 million people are still suffering from extreme poverty.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is the first and foremost goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a commitment countries made to global citizens two years ago.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We need a global response that addresses the root causes of conflict, and integrates peace, sustainable development and human rights in a holistic way.”

Unlocking rural potential for peace

Poverty eradication through rural transformation was the central theme of the recent FAO publication The State of Food and Agriculture 2017. For too long, rural areas have been seen as poverty traps. Instead, they are key to economic growth in developing countries, with vast potential for economic growth pegged to food production and related sectors.

Ending rural poverty is critical for countries to meet many of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, in particular Goal 1 (No poverty). The SDGs were built to leave no one behind, and for FAO this means helping small fishers, forest dwellers, small family farms and herders, rural women and youth, and indigenous peoples to participate and benefit from development.

Rural areas are crucial to meet the Zero Hunger challenge, at a time when food demand and hunger are on the rise. In 2016, around 815 million people in the world were chronically food-insecure and malnourished, 38 million more than in 2015. When looking at the projections, we find that food production needs to increase by 50% by 2050 to feed an additional 2 billion people. According to the State of Food and Agriculture 2017, agriculture and the off-farm sector can provide jobs, food and income to the fast-growing world population.

Four basic ingredients to end rural poverty

As part of its mandate, FAO works with countries to end poverty and build peaceful and inclusive societies, by harvesting the potential of agriculture and rural livelihoods.

Because around three-quarters of the extreme poor depend on agriculture and rural livelihoods for their subsistence, meeting the SDGs will depend on unlocking the potential of rural areas to feed and employ the rural poor. This implies investing in the agrifood sector and in the broader rural economy, to build inclusive food systems and provide alternatives to agriculture for rural people to move out of poverty.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, FAO proposes a recipe to leave no one behind that includes four basic ingredients:

  1. Investing in agriculture and rural areas to address the structural constraints that poor rural people face. This includes improving their access to resources, services, infrastructure, technologies, markets and extension services, to increase their productivity and income. While evidence shows that investing in agriculture is more effective in reducing poverty than investing in other sectors, this is not enough to lift people out of poverty. Because climate change, food prices volatility and political tensions hinder food production, rural people need to diversify their income to build resilient livelihoods.
  2. Creating more and better jobs in rural areas, especially for young people. Income diversification and job creation give people a chance to stay in rural areas, thus reducing distress migration. In 2015, of the 244 million people who crossed the border in search of a better life, about one-third was between 15 and 34 years old. Many young migrants come from developing countries, particularly from rural areas where poverty, famine and protracted crisis are preventing them from finding a job and build their future.
  3. Social protection also matters when it comes to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. Measures such as cash and asset transfers or targeted subsidies for the poorest help them cope with risks and shocks to their livelihoods. By providing a minimum income, these measures relax insurance and credit constraints, allowing poor rural people to start businesses and facilitating their transition into income-generating activities. This also improves their nutrition, education and health status.
  4. One last ingredient are policies, and in particular multi-sectoral policies to end poverty. Because poverty is a complex issue, policies that address only one root cause are not sufficient. Only broad multi-sectoral approaches that bring coherence and coordination between policies to boost agriculture, foster rural development and eradicate poverty can deal with this complexity. Government and Parliaments have therefore a key role to play in meeting SDG1.

Discover more about FAO’s strategic work to reduce rural poverty

See the video FAO policy series: Rural poverty reduction